The Number 1 Thing That Beginner Landscape Photographers Forget When Shooting

layers of urban development in Ulsan
I first published this as a larger landscape shot. However, it didn’t fully show what I wanted. I cropped it in and Boom! This showed exactly my vision.

Landscape photography is often the first stage for a photographer because they usually want to photograph the beauty that they see around them or while they are on vacation. You could say that many of those scenic shots you got while on vacation are in fact “landscape shots” So now what is is the difference between those shots and the ones that are hanging on the walls in galleries or published in books?

Normally, titles like this are click-bait for a new ebook or photo-gadget. However, I have nothing to sell just an idea. This is something that I have picked up from mainly reading David DuChemin. In his books, he talks a lot about vision and this is something that got me thinking the other day when someone sent me a message about looking at their photo.

When a portrait photographer takes a photo of a person, we instantly know what the subject is. There may be some more meaning added but the overall subject is in fact the person that they have photographed. For landscape photographers, we are dealing with a subject that is many kilometres in diameter and has almost infinite elements to it. Thus, when you simply raise your camera and photograph the scene in front of you, the result usually is a series of flat photos with no distinct subject or meaning.

Bamboo forest in Ulsan
You see these all the time. For me I wanted to show the peacefulness of the forest and to lead your eye through the frame. This meant waiting and inching over bit by bit to get it right.

Finding Your Vision

For me, vision is a big word. In my mind it has a lot to do with the direction, purpose, and meaning behind a photo. To simplify this, when I look at a photo that is of a valley taken in the middle of the day with harsh blue cloudless skies, I wonder “what’s the vision behind this photo?” What was the photographer trying to convey? Typically, the answer is “It was such a nice day and I wanted to take a photo” That is all fine and good but if your vision or message for the photo was “a beautiful scene” why then did you choose that day or that time?

It is this detail that many beginner photographers forget when they start out. They are thinking that the magic of the camera will turn this scene into something magical. You have to really listen to the voices inside your head… Well, not if they are telling you to do something crazy. What I mean is, when you go to a location, step back and really try and look at it. What does it say to you? Where are your eyes drawn to? How can you express that feeling you have at that moment?

criss-crossing lanes of traffic
I wanted to show the numerous overlapping lanes and tones. The vision that I had here was to show the confusion of driving here as we actually got lost a bit while getting to this location.

Taking all of this into consideration you will start to find your vision. Now, you have an idea of what you want to shoot and what to focus on. Instead if running around clicking and shooting at everything, you have a greater sense of purpose for your work. This is also going to trigger a more creative flow as your brain has a direction and can explore the possibilities and new ways to communicate your vision.

It may take a moment perhaps just walking around to try and find your vision for the photo. Often we get so overwhelmed by the moment we forget what we really want to communicate. Take for example my recent trip out Busan a little while ago.

We were on the 63rd floor of the of the Busan International Finance Centre. Currently there is a viewing platform that is a haven for photographers. Even though you have to shoot through glass, the view is stunning and one that I really enjoy.

a busy street in Busan South Korea
The vision for this was to break the pattern. I saw lots of blue and the orange from the street really cut through the image. Thus I wanted to balance the image and have the street cut straight through.

However, there is so much to shoot and a very short timeframe to shoot (think sunset to blue hour). Thus, without a clear vision in mind, you may walk away with some okay shots but they simply won’t have the same impact as ones that you’ve thought about. Again, you are not just trying to record the scene but, tell a story. For me, I started off just firing away. Pressed for time, I started snapping away at everything. Then I started to really think “what am I trying to say?”

I wanted to show the view from up there, but what I was lacking was something for the eye to anchor on. Then I say the intersection below and then the vision or focus came, at least for that particular shot. After that, it was just waiting for the right time and elements to be in place. That one change then had me catching on to other details from other view points.

A busy Busan street.
Here is where I wanted to show the intersection and the unique shape that it made. By shooting in portrait rather than landscape it highlighted the long road in the centre.

Fine-tuning Your Vision

Once you have the vision for the photo in mind, it is then up to you to try and figure out what or how express it. This means selecting the right tools for the job. As a landscape photographer I rely a lot of a few lenses to do the job. From wide-angles to zoom lenses, you have to find the right lens to express your vision. Nothing about gear envy here. You will notice that with a lot of Pro Photographers, they are not that focussed on the latest gear the way many hobby photographers are. The reason is that if you have a style of a particular vision then getting a new lens is only meaningful if it will allow them to communicate their vision better.

Monks praying at Beomosa Temple in Busan
The vision that I had for this shot was to show the inside of the temple. However, the monks added a starting point. Their backs are turned so there is a bit of mystery that makes your mind search the frame.

Much can be said about editing too and how it can help your vision. For me, having the lightroom and photoshop package is essential. I can switch back and forth between the two programs when I need to. However, if you are new then there is no reason for you to try and learn both. If simple edits are all you need to do or want to do then a cheaper basic photo editor is all that you really need.

Errors

Let’s face it, sometimes your photos just don’t work out. Sometimes despite being perfectly sharp and balanced overall, they just don’t work. Having a vision means that you can look at your photos and really figure out what went wrong. This is essential to learning in order to get better. When you look at your photo and think to yourself “ok, I wanted to say this. However, it doesn’t really say anything…why?” It is this process that will fine tune your entire process. Maybe you didn’t get close enough? Maybe you didn’t edit it properly?

Cranes and containers at BNCT terminal
I wanted more from this shot. I really wanted to show how busy the terminal was. This shot fell short but I new what to do later. Perhaps a ND filter or shoot later in the day to add some motion to the shot.

These questions related to your vision are what will give you the answers and teach you how to make better photographs. All these things are going to help you when you head out again. Not having a vision leaves too much guess work and ambiguity. If you just fired off a few shots and got lucky, how will you do it again?

Learning from your mistakes is one thing, but learning from your mistakes as it relates to a specific vision will make you a better photographer.

Be The Visionary

I know that you are probably thinking that I have started on some “new age” kick or something. However, this has everything to do with how you tell your story and finding a vision for your work. Think about it this way, if I just started talking about beautiful pictures. Telling you about Busan and Ulsan and this one time in Seoul. Yup, you may find it entertaining but nobody likes that steady stream of consciousness for very long.

Samsandong, Ulsan at night.
I wanted to show how much this area has changed. With one of the first images I ever took in South Korea, saved on my iPhone, I composed a similar shot. However, I chose a time that conveyed the vision of a futuristic city but was early enough that you could still see all the buildings.

When you write blog post much like photography, the best ones have a strong subject and an overall vision. That’s what makes them interesting. So find your vision before you go out, choose a location that suits your vision, compose and shoot for your vision, then edit so that you emphasize that vision. That is really all there is to it. Now, get out there, look towards the horizon and find your vision!

Ulsan, South Korea at Sun set
This could have been a flat photo. However, my vision for this photo was to draw your eyes to the horizon. I positioned the camera so the street lead your eye there.

Comments

  1. Scott Herder Reply

    Nice post, vision resonates with me the most. For me I feel like I am still stuck in the awe of a scene or the technical aspects (ie light trails) of how to get an effect without slowing down and trying to figure out what is creating that awe, or desire for that technique. – To make matters worse this applies to me in the blogging world as well! 🙂

    • Jason Teale Reply

      Thanks for commenting, Scott! I hear ya with the awe of the scene. I think that with experience comes the technical aspects and certainly having a vision for what you want to achieve will help with knowing how to shoot the scene as well. Thanks again for stopping by!

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